In India, the habit of eating with our hands carries ritual and cultural significance. Devouring the Onam Sadya served on a plantain leaf involves gorging on all these dishes using our palms and fingers to navigate through the large meal and to connect with the food at a spiritual and holistic level. Read on below to know more about the significance of eating the Sadya meal with our hands.
Devouring food with our hands, licking our palms when the curry oozes out on the sides and breaking a piece of chapati to dip it into subzi with our fingers is indeed a singular pleasure. Eating using the palm of our hands is an Indian practice that carries deeper cultural and ritualistic significance. Inculcating this habit in the younger generation involves the passing on of a tradition that has wholesome, spiritual meanings associated with a sense of ancient wisdom and knowledge systems.
Image credit: Dassana's Veg Recipes
During festive seasons, particularly those which are marked by great feasts like the Onam Sadya, eating with your hands is a cultural practice and a marker of the ritual of gorging on this repast served on the plantain leaf. It was during the colonial regime that eating with our hands was deemed uncivilised according to western culinary habits, yet what was once considered as unsavoury is now once again being recognised as a practice that has much to do with improving holistic wellness. Here are some ways in which eating the Onam Sadya and all its 26 and more dishes with your hands becomes significant:
Savouring The Banana Leaf Experience
One of the reasons that Sadya ought to be enjoyed with the hands is to savour the experience of eating from the banana leaf. Using a fork or spoon becomes difficult on the flat plantain leaf. But more than that, the flavours of the banana leaf seep into the kootan, sambar, payasam and numerous other dishes in the Sadya that elevate the flavours of each of these foods. The only way to enjoy them is to wrap your palms around the food and gobble it up!
Connecting With The Food
The ancient science of Ayurveda suggests that our body is made up of five elements which are earth, water, fire, air and space. Touching the food that we eat brings our body in contact with the nourishing properties of the dishes. Sadya meals eaten with hands is said to form a spiritual synergy between the meal and our body so that the food not only nourishes the physical self but also fortifies the soul.
Navigating Through The Dishes
When more than 26 dishes are arranged on the plantain leaf for the Sadya meal, each of these interlocked preparations is placed on a pre-decided spot. This means that navigating the sadya meal is rendered difficult with a spoon. Using your hands, all the dishes and vegetables can be brought together effectively, pulling them into a hearty mix that can be enjoyed only with your palms. Navigating through the Sadya meal is a skill which indeed requires nimble fingers.
One of the simplest reasons that Indian cultures advocate eating using our fingers is to avoid food from being leftover on the plate. Our palms enable us to control the movements of the liquid curries and dals and ensure that all of them are scooped up to leave behind a clean plate. In a Sadya meal too, along with the spiritual necessity of connecting with the food, eating with our hands makes sure the plantain leaf is wiped clean and that none of the sambars or kootans ooze out of the plate.
Put simply, this means inducing a feeling of satiety and gratitude after a hearty meal. Eating the Onam Sadya with our hands induces a feeling of having eaten to our heart's content, boosting an overall wellness that is more than just about savouring a delicious meal. The food touches the soul and in turn helps to fortify overall mental and spiritual wellness.
Controlling Portion Size
When we eat with our hands, it is easy to gauge how much food is being consumed. Once the entire Sadya meal is wiped clean, the time between clearing the plate and the act of washing the hands clean produces a feeling of satiety and fullness that prevents us from taking seconds and inevitably ends up in controlling the portion size in an already heavy meal.
Savouring the Sadya meal with our palms and fingers is as much about indulging in the delicious festive dishes as about practising mindful eating. This means that each of the foods is touched with our fingers, tasted with our tongues and the aromas revelled in before the food reaches the gut. This means that the hearty meal is enjoyed by all the senses enhancing a holistic experience of gorging on the Sadya meal.